Desert Island Discs: “Other Voices, Other Rooms” by Nanci Griffith (1993)Posted: August 6, 2013
What strikes one first about the album is the generosity it shows. Griffith is a notable songwriter in her own stead but she uses this album to sing songs written by the best of her peers – Kate Wolf, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Tom Paxton, Woodie Guthrie, Janis Ian, Gordon Lightfoot, Malvina Reynolds, the 1870s “Are You Tired of Me Darling” which was recorded by the Carter sisters, and “Wimoweh,” which closes the record and includes many of the guest performers from other songs. And that’s the second way in which this album is generous: Bob Dylan plays harmonica on it, Arlo Guthrie sings harmony vocal on Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley,” Iris DeMent sings harmony on one song and John Prine on his own song, Chet Atkins graces two cuts with his exquisite guitar, and Odetta takes the first verse on “Wimoweh,” which comes across as a fitting close to an album of musical celebration. – David Keymer
Nanci Griffith was a teenager in the 60s and thus was introduced to music by her older sister, music of the late 50s-early 60s folk music era. I first got this as a cassette from the Minneapolis library, soon after it was released. I had heard Nanci’s name before but had never heard her music. This made me a fan in short order, and is a go-to album that never fails to make me happy.
As the reviewer noted above, many of the songs’ writers join Nanci on their own numbers. It’s a virtual folk music all-star team, especially on the last track, “Wimoweh.” I appreciate the historical significance of the song – it features members of the legendary folk group The Weavers, who popularized it in the early 50s – but it’s the only one I skip. (Too much exposure to the bubble-gummy versions by The Tokens and Robert John, I guess.) But that’s a small criticism at best: there’s lots more to appreciate. Here’s a few. Buddy Mondlock’s “Comin’ Down In The Rain”:
Comin’ down in the rain
Washin’ outta the sky
Loaded down with the pain
There just ain’t no way to fly
You can read him as clear
As the wall where he once wrote his name
It was right next to hers
But it’ll only come down in the rain
Dylan’s “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” which he plays harmonica on:
That I might be gone a long long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’,
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin’?
Oh, how can, how can you ask me again?
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.
I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from his ship a-sailin’,
Saying, I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.
“Are You Tired Of Me Darlin'”:
Are you tired of me, my darlin’?
Did you mean those words you said
That have made me yours forever
Since the day that we were wed?
Tell me, could you live life over?
Would you make it otherwise?
Are you tired of me, my darlin’?
Answer only with your eyes.
John Prine’s “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness,” which he plays and sings on:
Well, I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that’ll last forever
Get left so far behind?
So what in the world’s come over you
And what in heaven’s name have you done?
You’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You’re out there running just to be on the run
It’s a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow
It’s crossed the evil line today
Well, how can you ask about tomorrow
When we ain’t got one word to say?
Nanci recorded a sequel in 1998: “Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful)”. It’s good, naturally, but doesn’t grab me like this one does. This is absolutely a Desert Island Disc.